1840 New Brunswick Census of the Madawaska Settlement

conducted by J.A. MacLauchlan, Warden of the Disputed Territory
Carleton (now Madawaska) County, New Brunswick and Aroostook County, Maine

(includes communities on both banks of the upper St.John River, in territory that was in dispute between Great Britain and the United States)

About the 1840 New Brunswick census


While researching in the archives of the University of New Brunswick Loyalist Collection, my friend and colleague Gary Campbell (author of the excellent The Road to Canada: The Grand Communications Route Along the St. John River to Quebec) discovered an until-now unknown document: a census of the Madawaska Settlement undertaken in early 1840 for the New Brunswick provincial government. Gary told me about the document and sent me a copy.

This is an amazing find. A listing of all property holders in the St.John River valley, from Grand Falls to the St.Francis River, on both banks of the river, this census includes information on each person's place of origin and how long they'd lived on the land.

On May 9th, 1840, James A. MacLauchlan, who held the position of "Warden of the Disputed Territories," submitted to New Brunswick Lietuenant Governor John Harvey an enumeration of households in the Madawaska Settlement, "between the Grand Falls and the River Saint Francis, on the River Saint John in the Province of New Brunswick." This census actually covered both the Left (North) and Right (South) banks of the St.John, including territory that is today located in Aroostook County, Maine.

As MacLauchlan's title indicated, the Madawaska Settlement was located in territory that was disputed between the United States and Great Britain. (For details of the border dispute, go to my page on the Border Dispute.) The dispute, which had originated with vague wording in the 1783 treaty by which Great Britain recognized the independence of 13 of its former North American colonies, had been subjected to arbitration in 1831. But the State of Maine rejected the terms of that settlement, so in 1840 the border was still uncertain. Both sides recognized that the territory in question was in dispute, and indeed the previous year, 1839, had almost gone to war over it.

Quoting from my border dispute page:

"On March 18, 1840, [Maine] Governor Kent's Democratic successor, John Fairfield, approved a belligerent set of resolutions by the legislature declaring that unless the British government should make a distinct and satisfactory proposition during the present session of Congress for the immediate adjustment of the boundary, the duty of the federal government would be to take possession of the disputed territory, and, if the federal government should flinch, it would become the imperative duty of Maine to assume the defense of the honor of the state and nation and expel from its limits whatever British troops were quartered there." [Merk, p.57, citing Acts and Resolves of the State of Maine (August, 1840), pp.226-227]

At this point both sides had ordered land surveys of the territory, and the US government would in August 1840 send a census taker, Gorham Parks, to enumerate the settlement - including both sides of the Saint John River - as part of the US decennial census. [Go to the 1840 US census of Madawaska, information and transcription.]

MacLauchlan's census thus predates the US one by a few months. The letter is dated May 9, and the document itself was signed by Justice of the Peace Francis Rice the day before. Given that it covers 397 households ranging from Grand Falls to the St.Francis River, it is likely that MacLauchlan conducted the census over a period of time in April and May 1840.

Although the reason for Lt.Gov. Harvey's order to enumerate the Madawaska Settlement is not stated, we can surmise that it was directly related to this ongoing dispute and the Maine governor's pressure. Indeed, three months later, when MacLauchlan confronted US census taker Gorham Parks, Parks assured him he was a representative not of the State of Maine, but rather of the US Federal Government. Quoting from my page on Gorham Parks, "What is clear from the letter is that the United States and New Brunswick had an agreement that agents of the State of Maine were not to enter the disputed territories (this was after the "Aroostook War"), but agents of the US government were so permitted." [See the text of a letter sent by MacLauchlan to Harvey on the subject of his meeting with Parks.]

The 1840 census

MacLauchlan's census, unlike the US one, did not count the number of persons in each household, and indeed, the New Brunswick census counted many fewer households than the US one. However, it does include other information of great interest: the place of origin of each person as well as how long they had been located on the land they were living on. This thus gives us invaluable information on many of the settlers and inhabitants of the valley.

MacLauchlan listed 397 persons (heads of household): 198 on the left, or north, bank, and 199 on the right, or south, bank. As mentioned above, this is significant because it differs quite a bit from the 1840 US census, which found a total of 503 households: 227 households on the south bank of the St.John, and 276 on the north bank (though this number included people living on both sides of the river upstream from the Fish River). A direct comparison of the transcriptions of the two 1840 censuses confirms that MacLauchlan did not include every single household.

It seems that he enumerated only persons who were in possession of land, skipping people who were renting or who otherwise did not own land. This is most probably the case, since one of the items of information he gathered was whether the person held the land they owned under grants from the New Brunswick government, or whether they held it without a grant. One bit of evidence for this is that my own great-great-great grandfather, Prospère Gagnon, is listed in MacLauchlan's 1833 census as a tenant; he does not show up in the 1840 enumeration. (On the other hand, only 11 of the 135 households in the 1833 census were listed as tenants, and many of those do show up in the 1840 listing as holding land, usually ungranted.)

In addition, according to historian Béatrice Craig, who has examined these returns, MacLauchlan seems to have skipped those persons settled along the Madawaska River. Gary Campbell notes that "From what I can tell, the reason for the census was to reinforce the British claim that the Madawaska settlement extended along both banks of the St. John River. The state of Maine, reinforced by the posse/volunteers at Fort Kent, was claiming that it did not. This was all in preparation for any negotiations that might occur -- which became the Webster/Ashburton meeting [the final treaty negotiations in 1842]." Thus MacLauchlan's census was meant not for purposes like the 1833 census of the settlement that he conducted -- to gather information on the entire population -- but rather to stake a claim to the territory on behalf of New Brunswick.

MacLauchlan does note that the total population of the settlement "is over three thousand persons"; the US census found 3,460 inhabitants, so on that note they were both relatively close, which further indicates that he consciously enumerated only part of the population for the purposes of the border dispute.

Since these two censuses were conducted only 3 months apart, they are very interesting for comparisons' sake. Assuming I'm correct about land ownership, over 80 percent of the households of the entire settlement owned the land on which they lived. Of the total, MacLauchlan found that 151 heads of household "were born in Madawaska"; 178 were from "Canada" (today's Québec); 38 from New Brunswick (of whom 31 were "French," 5 "English" and 2 with no indication, though with French names); 15 from Ireland; 9 from the US; 3 from Nova Scotia; and 2 from England.

In addition to the census itself, in the same collection Gary found a number of pieces of correspondence related to the Madawaska Settlement from 1839 and 1840. I'll try to transcribe those and add them to the site as time permits. In addition, I plan to include annotations to the transcription in the form of pop-boxes, like those I've included in other transcriptions on this site.

MacLauchlan's enumeration covers 16 pages, each numbered consecutively in the upper right-hand corner. The census is divided into three sections. In each section, he numbers each household beginning with "1". The first section, on pages 1 through 10, are those households "located on lands in the Madawaska Settlement Between the Grand Falls and the Little Madawaska River" (referring to what is now called the Madawaska River). This section, includes 248 households. The second section, on pages 11 through 14, are those "located between the Little Madawaska River and the Fish River," covering 118 households. The third section, on pages 15 and 16, are those "located between the Fish River and the Saint Francis," comprising 31 households.

As MacLauchlan himself notes, the overwhelming majority of those enumerated were French. All of those whose place of origin was "Canada" -- today's Québec -- can safely be assumed to be native French speakers. In the case of those from New Brunswick, MacLauchlan noted in the "Remarks" column whether they were "English" or "French," reflecting that province's mixed population. Thus 362 of the 397 households, or 91 percent, were francophone.

As is the case for all censuses of this region undertaken by anglophones, the spelling of French names is somewhat different from how they are spelled today. Some spellings are just variations that francophones also used; others are just misspellings. In the name index to the census I have given French names and how MacLauchlan spelled them in the census. He also often used English versions of French first or given names; for example Steven instead of Etienne, Peter instead of Pierre.



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